Acting on a public interest litigation, a division bench of the Kerala High Court on Monday ordered a CBI probe into the trafficking of children from north and northeastern states to orphanages in Kerala.The division bench of Chief Justice Ashok Bhushan asked the CBI to step in despite the state government opposing probe by a central agency.
While saying that all orphanages in Kerala should be brought under the purview of the Juvenile Justice Act, the court added that district administration and child welfare committees at the district-level must ensure that proper legal procedure is followed while bringing children from other states.
Trafficking of children from other states to Kerala orphanages hit the headlines last year when 450 children from Bihar and Jharkhand were brought to a few Muslim-run orphanages in North Kerala. The railway police in Palakkad had then booked the ‘agents’ involved on charges of trafficking children without proper documents and even railway tickets.
Subsequently, police and several agencies began investigating the conduct of other orphanages in Kerala. Two months back, police detained several children in Kochi, who were brought to some orphanages in central Kerala.
Kerala has around 1800 orphanages, recognised by the State Orphanage Control Board, and many of these institutions — especially in north Kerala — have several north Indian children as inmates.
According to sources, children from other states are in demand because of shrinking enrollment of local students, which threatens to lead to the closure of schools run by orphanage trusts. Some trusts that run schools have actually opened orphanages only to ensure steady flow of students to their schools and to stay in business. Agents, claim sources, find ‘eligible’ children in north Indian villages — in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Manipur, Jammu and Gujarat — and at the start of an academic year bring them in batches to Kerala.
In the past, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), an ally of the Congress-led Government, had alleged that the state government was trying to prevent the functioning of institutes meant for destitute Muslim children. The IUML had then stated that the orphanages were not involved in the sale of children for sexual exploitation or organ trade and the government should desist from oppressing them by pointing out procedural lapses.
Orphanages in Kerala, particularly those run by Muslim organisations, have been regularly bringing destitute Muslim boys and girls from other states. Many of these orphanages, like JDP Islam Orphanage in Kozhikode, have over the years grown into hubs of professional and technical institutes, increasing the demand for more inmates.